Postmodern, or else? The case of "Maus" by Art Spiegelman


In a 1986 interview, the comic artist Art Spiegelman confessed to having made an initial decision counter to his Pulitzer-winning graphic memoir Maus being postmodern… and yet, it turned out to be one of the most controversial  – and convincing – examples of postmodernist rethinking of historical writing.  The working hypothesis discussed in the present essay is the ‘inevitability’ of the text’s postmodernist structure, due to two main factors: firstly, the author’s second-generation perspective, which prevented the mimetic representation of a reality “beyond his darkest dreams”. Accordingly, Spiegelman chose to portray the various nationalities involved in the conflict with an animal mask, modeled on the American mainstream funny-animal comic heroes. This resulted in a hybrid form, originated in a conflation of highbrow and lowbrow art, which is considered typical of the postmodernist literary production. Secondly, the peculiar narrative matter at the heart of the project – an oral history document of his father Vladeck’s true testimony of imprisonment at Auschwitz during World War II – determined a highly self-referential structure in which the process of history-making was made explicit, and where History was replaced by two petit récits, which proposed two multiple and even contradictory histories.

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